The day I got married, one of my closest friends looked me in the eye and said "God has many wild and wonderful things ahead for you and Jeremy."

Being called mom by 7 kids is definitely wild. Each day I look for the wonder in it all...and give thanks.

Partnering with my husband in life, parenting, work and serving is definitely wonderful. He is my favorite.

Monday, August 29, 2022

The Most Unexpected Reunion

The past few weeks Jeremy and I have been delighted, no... ecstatic, to tell and re-tell this story to our friends and family. Some close friends have been with us almost each time we've shared it, and they are sweet enough to make us feel like they are not just enduring it, but actually enjoy hearing it one more time.

Recently, so many parts of our world collided in the most extraordinary, unexpected, amazing way and I've procrastinated in writing it down because I don't think I can do it justice.

The excitement we feel is the same excitement you may feel when you've opened a long-awaited gift. 

The encouragement we feel is kind of like that feeling you may have when your kids give you hugs, or your boss recognizes your hard work, or your parents tell you how proud they are of you.

So here's what happened...

On a normal Tuesday work day, Jeremy and I both got totally random messages from a stranger who says,

Hi there! Sorry for the totally random message from a stranger. I am at Pinecove in Tyler with a new friend named John. John was an orphan in an orphanage in Rwanda as a child, he said that he had a couple from Texas named Jeremy and Vanessa with a son named Wesley who came to spend time with him when he was an Orphan and he wanted to try and find them.

I am curious - is that you and your husband? Sorry if not!

This stranger was not the only curious one now! What did John look like? What orphanage was he from? What camp was going on at Pine Cove?

I asked him if he could send a pic of John and when he did, he mentioned John was blind and he had lived at the Noel Orphanage.

AWE of God drifted over me and settled inside softly.

John at Pine Cove

Jeremy and I knew exactly who John was. We had spent 2 days at Noel Orphanage on our first trip to Rwanda in 2010. I started this blog a month before that trip and posted about each day--this post includes Jeremy's thoughts about visiting Noel and a letter from another John at Noel.

Our time at Noel was so brief, but made a huge impact on us. We walked around the grounds of Noel with John and many others, but John spoke more English so it was easier to talk. He sang and taught Jeremy some songs in Kenyarwanda and they sung some American worship songs too. He had a beautiful voice. And he hardly left our side the entire time we were there.

John is on Jeremy's right shoulder
First trip in 2010

John and I in 2011 on our second trip

Fast forward to August 2022, John was at Rally Week at Pine Cove. Rally Week is an extra week of camp for ministries across Texas to bring their kids who would not otherwise have the opportunity to go. John met a guy named Wesley at camp (not our Wesley, although our Wesley had been there the week before!) and he asked him, "Are you the Wesley with Jeremy, Vanessa and Wesley from Texas?" He was not, but Kenneth (stranger who sent us the random message) listened to John explain why he asked. Kenneth began googling "Jeremy, Vanessa, Wesley, orphan, Rwanda" and he quickly found us and got in touch. He wanted to make sure it was us before telling John.

Meanwhile, Kenneth told the whole story to his co-worker, Autumn, and Autumn was like, "I know them!" 


Autumn is one of Katerin's BEST FRIENDS from college--they affectionately call their circle of 6 friends "The Gaggle." This photo was taken of Katerin and Autumn the weekend after Autumn met John at Pine Cove (One friend in the gaggle got married). 

Back at camp, Kenneth saw that John had left his water bottle at the lunch table so he took it to him. He had the confirmation he needed to tell John the news.

He told John he found his water bottle but that's not all....
he had found Jeremy, Vanessa and Wesley from Texas!

We got to Facetime with John at the end of the week and we soon made plans to meet in person. John shared how he would ask people he met at times if they knew us. He'd come to the States in 2014 and even to Texas and he would sometimes get frustrated and ask God, "Why can't I find them...I have come all the way from Rwanda to Texas!"

Now he lives an hour away!

Wesley stopped by to see John on his way back to school

Meeting John face to face again!

We can't get over all of the things! Our trips to Rwanda making it clear we would adopt older kids. Rwanda adoptions closing and God leading us to our kids in Colombia. Our daughter from Colombia going to UMHB where she met Autumn. Autumn working with a non-profit that goes to Pine Cove the same week John is there. John remembering our names and asking about us.

John has quite a story! God is so sweet to allow this reunion to take place on this side of Heaven. And how He brought it about just amazes us!

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Tulips and Windmills

Yesterday I passed the exit I used to take to get Emily to The Westview School. As I drove passed, my mind traveled back to the past to the days of commuting to school, learning about autism, and all the fears I had as a mom with a child on the spectrum.

Soon after receiving our diagnosis, someone shared Emily Perl Kingsley's essay, Welcome to Holland with me and yesterday's drive gave me time to think about some of the tulips and windmills and what I would share with my younger self...

First thing I would do is put my arm around my shoulder, give a squeeze and say, 

"It really will be ok."

Yes there will be hard things, things that feel impossible and at times you will feel helpless. But these hard things are necessary things. They become the necessary tutors, the only teachers, that can equip Emily and prepare her for more independence.

You won't have to figure things out on your own. 

Don't limit your dreams by what is on the internet or what diagnosticians project. Emily is unique. Your family dynamics are not the norm. You really can't imagine what is ahead.

Hold fast to faith and allow enough naivety to take risks.

Build on her strengths and invest in her character. Don't waste a second trying to catch up or fill in gaps. Being normal is not the goal.

The photos in this post are from a recent trip Emily and I got to enjoy--her senior trip just 4 years late. We enjoyed Disney at our own pace and were grateful to get to do all the things we wanted.

And I am even more grateful "to enjoy the very special, very lovely things" about the journey we are on. 

Monday, May 16, 2022

Birthdays & Baseball

Since I have taken a social break online, I have missed sharing about my loved ones on their birthdays. So this is THE BIRTHDAY POST for my favorite people with a little bit of a baseball twist. 

Here's how it would go if we were a professional baseball team:

Baseball Cake Recipe

Top of the line up...

CF: Jeremy! There are days when this guy probably feels like he's batting .230, but from my view in the dugout, he is an all-star. One of the highlights of this year has been cheering him on and joining him (somewhat) in getting healthier. 

When Jeremy makes up his mind and sets a goal, he is undeterred. His self-discipline and dedication to losing weight and exercise has been fun, rewarding, challenging, and admirable.

I am super proud of him for making some healthy changes! But what I appreciate more, and what I too often take for granted, is how he always chooses me. We have had our share of blow-ups and disagreements, but that's not the end of the story. By God's grace, we come back together and work it out.

He's definitely the MVP on this team.

For Jeremy's last birthday, he met Wesley in Kansas City to watch the Astros beat the Royals 6 - 3. It was a quick trip for them both but they got to enjoy baseball and BBQ.

Next up...

2B: Me -- yes mom gets a spot on the team too. I am the author of this blog and manager of this team so I get to be 2nd in the line up. Often times, the 2nd batter is a good bat handler and needs to be one who can take pitches to allow the leadoff hitter to steal. 

I don't know about handling the bat, but I do know how to take some pitches. And I often sacrifice bunt so that makes me good for batting in the 2 hole.

I got to spend my last birthday at my favorite place in the whole world--THE LAKE. Being at the lake feeds my soul. It can be any lake, and fortunately, we have a few lakes within 1-3 hours from us that we can enjoy. 

3B: Marian! Marian has a birthday in April, so in 2020, we were in the middle of lockdowns and in 2021 we had a family crisis that didn't ask for permission to collide with her day.

So this year she actually got to have lunch with grandparents, dinner and dancing with friends, and then we had our family birthday dinner for her and Wesley a week after.

LF: Saimon -- this kid is our power hitter so he's 4th in the lineup to drive us home. Saimon got to spread his birthday celebration out over Spring Break with a big extended family lunch and fun with friends throughout the week. 

Saimon turned sweat 16 this year (that's not a typo). He is sweat 16 because I do not know anyone who works out more than this guy. He's in athletics at school and then he works out at home up to 3 more times a day. He is one strong dude.

1B: We have another power hitter, Omar! Omar did not get a car for his birthday, but he found a good deal on one a few months later. Omar spent the last two birthdays hanging out with friends and re-introducing the family to Golden Corral. He also has become a frequent shopper at Boot Barn so most of Christmas and Birthday money went towards his new style. 

SS: Wesley - Wes is one of two left-handed batters on the team (mom being the other). He has leadoff-type skills so he gets 6th in the lineup, and he makes a good shortstop because he takes charge on balls hit in the air as well as communication among infielders. Wesley has spent the last 2 birthdays at Pine Cove working as a counselor at the Bluffs

There is a lot to love and appreciate about Wesley, but what you may not know is that he is....

RF: Emily! When asked what position she wanted on the team, without hesitation Emily said, "OH, I want to be way out in right field, out where the dandelions grow."

Emily most enjoys spending her birthday with family and friends. She likes to read every birthday card...out loud. The last two birthdays she has gotten to do exactly her favorite thing--quality time with her favorite people, feeling loved and celebrated. 

Emily has also been on a journey to a healthier lifestyle and is almost half way to her goal!

Catcher: Crouched behind home plate, Savannah primarily is responsible for receiving all the pitches thrown at her, but she also has a lot of duties on defense. Preventing stolen bases, suggesting pitch selections, and framing the strike zone make for a lot on her plateSavannah is 8th in the lineup because she is also a patient hitter.

Savannah has spent the last couple of birthdays with a small group of friends. She is beyond ready for her next birthday because she will finally get a phone!


And last but not least....

P: Katerin is batting 9th in the lineup because of her leadoff-type skills. And as pitcher, Katerin is a swingman because she may be used as a starter or a reliever. 

Since Katerin went to college and is now in the workforce, we have spent less birthdays with her on her actual birthday. But she has enjoyed special outings with her best friends and joined us for family dinners when possible.


What's a team without our own ballboys??

The best Ballboy & Ballgirl

Hiccup & Cocoa just celebrated their 2nd birthday

Birthdays give us a chance to turn our attention to each family member and give God thanks for their life, their gifts, who they are, and who they are becoming.

And I think we would make a heck of a baseball team!

You may have guessed already, but we love the Astros! 
So to end this post, I'll share some fan pics from over the years...

Let's go Astros!

Thanks and for helping me form my lineup!

Friday, May 13, 2022

Counting Gifts

It's been a hard season. I keep thinking I will write when I get out of this season, but it's still hard and I don't see any break soon.

So how do I cope in the unrelenting waves of hard? 

One way I keep walking forward through hard seasons is finding things to be grateful for in each day. I started a journal in 2015 after reading 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Now I have multiple journals and nearly 8000 reminders of good. Reminders that God is present. He is kind. He sees me. And He holds all things in His hands.

Here are a few things that have made the list lately...

7812. Jeremy and I getting our 2 mile walk in with the dogs.

7828. Emily starting a new job.

7892. Seeing the magnolias in bloom next to the church with the red doors.

7895. Savannah and I getting dressed up and going to dinner and shopping on a Friday night.

7898. Birthday dinner for Wes and Marian (the twins) at Sho-Gun.

7905. Saimon getting a bouquet of flowers for me Saturday morning.

7908. Escape Room with most of our kids on Mother's Day--we enjoyed it and made it out with 7 minutes to spare! (truly miraculous)

7918. Omar teaching Katerin how to rope.

I came across Jeremiah 15:19 about a year ago and one part of it stood out to me as I practice gratitude. Right in the middle of the verse, it says,

 "if you extract the precious from the worthless, you will become My spokesman." 

Practicing gratitude causes me to extract the precious from the worthless. It halts the rehearsal of toxic thoughts and turns my attention to the kind gifts God gives in the midst of trials.

What kind gifts did you notice today?